I’m a little late getting to this one. I wanted to review Snowpiercer much earlier in the year but it has still not seen a UK release. I thought it had and I had just missed it. Turns out there was a festival showing and that’s it. No DVD release or anything. But the film is up on the US version of Netflix which is easy enough to access if you’re a UK Netflix customer. So, do that. Because, Jesus, this film is pretty damn good and needs watching. You know it’s out over a lot of Europe too on DVD. They’ll play on UK DVD players fine and will be in English. Screw Weinstein and his messed up handling of this film. Anyway, click the link below for the review.
Snowpiercer is set in the quite near future, as many a sci-fi is. Actually, the films instigating event happens pretty much now, with the film’s story taking place nearly 18 years later. Essentially the world was all a panic about that global warning things American government has been doing a fine job of pretending doesn’t exist because it would damage sales of whatever pollutant they want to sell right now… ahem… and the plan is to cool the Earth using a load of chemicals, because clearly we never learn. Well that magical chemical actually worked. Like, really, really well. So well that the Earth is now a giant ice-ball and the only remaining humans are living on a train that circumvents the globe. The rich live at the front in a life of luxury, whilst the poor eat “protein bars” in the back end. Curtis (Chris Evans) is a passenger of the very end car and he has plans to lead a rebellion to take over the entire train and free his fellow downtrodden and abused people.
So pretty much a slave rebellion plot really. The people at the back may not be slaves but they’re treated as less than life, children taken for who knows what, punished in extremely severe manner. By severe I mean arm outside the train until it freezes solid and shattered with a sledgehammer severe. That sort of brutality runs through the film. In effect Curtis brings the brutality he’s experienced up through each car of the train. Sure, the security on the train are bringing axes, but there’s no attempt at peaceful resolution by Curtis at all. This is more a revolution of retribution for 17 years of abuse. Along the way they stop for sushi.
The violence in Snowpiercer is an odd thing. The film appears to be very bloody and violent. And sure a lot of violence happens. But as I went along I started to notice something. You very rarely actually see the violent act. The camera cuts away, the impact is obscured, the messy result of an attack implied with a blood splat. I was quite surprised to find the film to be fairly tame in it’s actual violent visuals. This film prefers to infer the result of violence rather than actually fully show it. For some this may be an issue. For me, there was a few moments where I felt a cut had been made purely to keep the film from becoming a gore-fest, but it never distracted too much.
The film’s cast is ridiculously incredible. Which only raises even more questions regarding Weinstein’s attempts to hide the film from release. Chris Evans is clearly the star, and the film’s release came at exactly the right moment for his career, but he’s joined by so many great name. John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Alison Pill (who were both in Dear Wendy, another hidden gem), Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ewan Bremner and Song Kang-ho fill out the cast. All have their roles and time to shine. Tilda Swinton especially shows off playing possibly one of the most easily unlikeable characters put on screen. She basically plays Margaret Thatcher with a hint of over self importance. So regular Margaret Thatcher then.
For a film set inside a series of metallic boxes Snowpiercer sure looks pretty big. Shots are carefully selected to utilise the space at hand, cramped when you need to feel trapped, expansive when the action needs room to breath… well… splatter. Each car of the train has a distinct look at theme with the grime gradually giving way to opulence and eventual futurism. The art design on the train sets… as in the sets that compromise the train, not miniature railways… is reason enough to watch the film alone. This is an entire world crafted within the smallest of confines. The costume design also deserves praise ranging from makeshift scraps to excessive pompousness. The tiny details in the clothing alone is signs of true works of art being crafted.
Action sequences vary as often as the train cars with each battle having a distinct feel ranging from desperate squabbles to all out medieval wars. Each is shot with a different approach, be it slow motion heavy to allow you to take in the full scale of the massacre at hand, of in a single camera set up with no score to underline the viciousness of the fight. This is the sort of variety of action sequences action films should aim to have. Plus, this has to be the first film set on a train that didn’t have a scene where characters fight on top of it. So kudos due for that.
In all Snowpiercer is the sort of action sci-fi films of those genres should aspire to be. It has a simple premise executed well. It’s tightly designed and scripted. It provides variety and dynamic flash. He film juggles thematics that fit perfectly within the confines of the story and location. By the time the film is done you’ll have questions regarding the aftermath but you’ll feel as though every avenue of the story was explored adequately along the way. There’s a few shaky cam moments I could have done without and some of the CGI effects are a little false looking, only a little though. But otherwise Snowpiercer is a superb work that shows again that Boon Jong-ho is an excellent director. The fact this was put through so much nonsense in order to get a release is baffling. Be sure to take the time to watch this if you can because films like this don’t come along often enough.